Should We Grade Participation?

There’s no easy answer.

A stack of pencils and two questions, yes or no. Should we grade participation?
Debate, dialog, communication and education concept. color pencil talking about political opinions with speech bubbles

This is a question schools really should consider. But when they do, the debate gets heated quickly. Some teachers argue that participation is too subjective. Grades measure mastery of content, and there are no teaching standards for participation. Others believe that the learning process is just as important as a test or project. Students are more likely to copy notes, complete classwork, and focus when graded. The bottom line: there’s no simple answer. Whether schools require participation grades varies. We asked teachers in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say.

Yes, we should grade participation.

Classroom behavior and content are equally important.

I call it classwork and use it to help pump up grades. I do it because what they do and how they act while in class is very important. I want them to know it’s important enough to get a grade. Yes, it’s subjective, but… —Robin

Students deserve credit for their efforts and proactivity.

I do grade participation. They can work homework problems on the board, get help from our tutor program, get help from me, and participate in discussions. It’s only 5 percent, but it helps. Sitting on the front row automatically puts you at a higher starting point (they can choose where they sit). Sleeping is very damaging to the grade. —Sara

Grades should measure more than test scores.

Grading class participation can save a student’s grade who tried hard but doesn’t test well. —Nadia.


Students give their participation grades.


I have to, though totally against my philosophy. What I do though is to have students ‘grade’ themselves. I converted our school’s participation rubric into a Google form and made it more reflective of work habits, preparation, etc. I also give them examples of participation: emojis, using the Chat feature, etc. Verbal participation is not the only way! I usually end up agreeing with their grade and just take off 5 points of the lowest score if they didn’t fill out the form. They also have to give reasons why they deserve that grade. —Melissa

It’s OK if students know in advance.

I grade participation on specific, pre-announced, occasions. For instance, if we’re discussing a particular novel, story, or concept, my juniors/seniors will have a topic, idea, theme, or some other issue. —Kim

No, we shouldn’t grade participation.

Student participation isn’t one-size-fits-all.

I don’t grade participation because there isn’t a specific standard to measure participation with specific criteria. Also, students participate in their own individual ways, so to group everyone together and assign them a grade on that criteria doesn’t seem fair. —Tyler

Participation grades are subjective.

Grades based on how often students raise their hands and answer questions are very subjective and reflect the teacher’s marking practices and their implicit bias rather than student mastery of content knowledge. Systemic racism, sexism, and ableism can affect those grades, and a well-intentioned teacher might not even notice. —Sarah

It’s hard to give a participation grade when a student isn’t there.

If I give a speaking/listening grade, I offer a way for my students to make up the points if they were absent. It usually requires them to meet during my office hours. —Deesha

Participation grades don’t reflect what students know.

I want a grade to reflect on what a student knows. A grade should convey to parents and students how well they know content. By including participation you falsify the grade as it no longer reflects what a kid knows. —Kirk

Grade standards and give feedback on participation.

I view grades as mastery of content. And then comments are where we note subjective things like behavior, participation, engagement. —Jenn

Should we grade participation? There’s no easy answer. It’s helpful to hear what other teachers are doing. Because participation is subjective, getting really clear on what you’re grading and why is important. Whether you use a rubric to communicate your expectations to students or explain to parents the why behind your choice, it’s important to communicate why you believe grading participation is beneficial or not. And if you’re still on the fence, that’s OK too.

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Plus, 5 Practical Ways Teachers Can Respond To, “I Don’t Get It.”

Should We Grade Participation?